Chile 101

guest post by: Constance Chamberlain

Chile has exploded onto the wine scene in the past few years particularly because they consistently offer premium wines with a good quality-price-ratio across the spectrum. Coupled with good value, the wines of Chile really communicate their sense of place throughout the country’s 14 wine growing regions, each offering something unique to discover.

veramonteSBPart of this is thanks to the four natural barriers: the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes to the East, Patagonia to the South, and the Pacific Ocean to the West. In fact, despite being a country that is over 2,700 miles long, Chile’s climatic differences vary greater from east to west than from north to south—the proximity to the coast or the mountains, and the altitude influence the wine even more than the latitude. In addition to the creation of unique microclimates, these natural barriers act as a protective shield and to date Chile remains one of the only places in the world that has not been affected by phylloxera, the louse that destroyed much of the world’s vineyards in the 1800’s.   So unlike vines in most of the rest of the world which are grafted onto phylloxera resistant American rootstocks, Chile’s vineyards are on natural roots which many specialists say contributes to truly unique wines.

The sheer size of Chile also offers great opportunity for variation in terroir and specialization of varieties in certain regions. As a result, wines that fall into this category have really been a focus of the winemakers and vineyard plantings have expanded further north and south over the past few years.

Chile is dominated by red wines by 70%, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with the growth of coastal regions, Sauvignon Blanc has also taken a share of the spotlight as well as other cool climate wines such as Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Smaller projects throughout the country have allowed various grapes to shine such as with dry-farmed, old vine Carignan in the south.

Perhaps Chile’s most unique variety is Carmenere – a red grape that was thought to be extinct after phylloxera hit Bordeaux in the 1800’s. However, in 1994 careful analysis revealed that the once called “Chilean Merlot,” was in fact Carmenere.

Chile’s wine industry is really a mix of old and new world. Many of the world’s most prominent winemaking families such as Lafite Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, recognized the country’s potential long ago and have been producing wines in this region for decades. Additionally, many of Chile’s young winemakers have spent time training in prestigious winemaking regions such as Bordeaux so stylistically they are quite similar. These techniques combined with new technologies consistently allow Chilean wines to outshine their competitors.

Overall, the most important thing to remember about Chilean wine is this: quality-price-ratio. It’s unlikely that one will find the diversity of wines, but with such consistent quality at an affordable price anywhere else in the world making Chile a natural choice for a go-to bottle of wine.